« PreviousContinue »
but it is a fond course to shun disgrace by doing that which alone deserveth it.
Is it not also a wild thing to seem modest toward men, while we are really so bold with God, as presumptuously to offend him, to affront him, 'to provoke him (as those in the prophet did) to his face ? for so indeed every sinner doth; and as it is the greatest inadvertency not to consider God alway present with us, so it is the height of impudence to sin in his presence, or to prefer a regard to men before the reverence due to his eye.
Is it not also great folly for declining a little present transient disgrace, to do that whereof afterward we shall be grievously and perpetually ashamed; which we shall never remember or reflect on without confusion, (according to that of the Apostle, What fruit had ye of those things whereof ye are now ashamed ?') the consequence whereof is our standing obnoxious to shame and everlasting contempt.' If we be thus ashamed of God, and of our duty to him,
may he not justly in recompense be ashamed of us, and disdain to own us in favor and mercy? He will surely, he hath often declared so; · Whosoever,' saith our Lord, shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels.'
2. Another principle, near of kin to the former, disposing men to commit sin, or waive duty in their open conversation, is fear of losing the good-will, or getting the ill-will of men.
It must often happen that whoever will be virtuous, and stick to his duty, will forfeit the favor of men, will incur their displeasure, will provoke their indignation ; by crossing their humor and conceit, by implicitly slighting their opinion and condemning their practice : this is the portion and fate of strict and stiff piety; the friendship of God and the world are not well consistent; and St. Paul's rule may be converted, “If I should please men, I should not be the servant of Christ:' hence men prizing the favor of men with the advantages of it, and dreading their anger, hatred, disdain, with the mischiefs consequent on them, are scared from their duty.
But in truth this is a silly, a base, a sorry fear, arguing wretched meanness of spirit, and pitiful cowardice. For,
Dost thou, fond wretch, fear to lose the favor of man, whose favor doth avail nothing to thy main interests, and cannot anywise considerably benefit thee, (for in no respect dost thou depend on his will and providence,) but dost not fear being deprived of God's favor, on which all thy good hangeth, wherein thy felicity consisteth, without which thou art uncapable of any prosperity, of any security, of any joy or comfort ?
Dost thou fear the displeasure of man, of poor impotent man, sorry frail worm,' whose breath is in his nostrils,' (ready to fly away in every moment,) whose anger can do thee no real harm, whose power can hardly touch thee, can nowise reach thy soul or its concerns; whilst thou dreadest not to offend the eternal Almighty God, under whose feet thou liest, ready to be crushed into nothing, or stamped down into hell at his pleasure ?
Darest thou not, O heartless dastard, to do that which is in thy power easily to do, which thou art infinitely concerned to do, which on so many accounts thou art obliged to do, out of fear to cross thine equal, yea far thine inferior in this case ; for he that standeth to his duty, as he hath the better cause, so he hath the greater force, and assuredly will defeat all his opposers ?
Art thou, O pusillanimous slave, in regard to any creature, thy fellow-subject and servant, afraid of expressing thy loyalty to thy sovereign Lord, thy love to infinite goodness, thy gratitude to thy best friend and kindest benefactor, thy reverence toward the divine majesty, thine awe of uncontrollable power ? is this a reasonable, an excusable, a tolerable fear?
Surely if ever to be driven out of heart is reproachful, if ever to be cowed doth argue infirmity and abjectness of spirit, it is in this case; when we have all the reason and obligation in the world to be most courageous and resolute, to fear no colors, to make our party good against all opposition; when we have the greatest necessity to engage us, and the greatest advantage to encourage us to hold out stoutly; the greatest necessity, seeing all that we have, our life, our salvation, our eternal weal doth lie at stake; for it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life :' the greatest advantages, for that if we will, we are invincible, and assured of an easy victory, seeing we take part with God, and have omnipotency on our side ; so that we can say with David, • The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do unto me:' • The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?' the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid ?'
There is not indeed, to those who are under God's special protection, and confide in him, any thing in nature really formidable or terrible : it is his peculiar attribute to be the mighty and terrible One; he recommendeth himself to us as our fear, that is, the special object of it; we therefore do sacrilegiously wrong him, by fearing any other thing in such cases of competition, and when we are concerned to fear him; whence then we are prohibited to fear the greatest powers in the world ; Fear not them which kill the body, (if God permit them,) but are not able to kill the soul : but rather fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.'
• Who,' saith St. Peter, ‘is he that will (or that can) harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good ??-wherefore be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled ; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,'(by a pure confidence in him.)
In such cases, we should be ready to accost the greatest potentates in terms like those of the three brave youths in Daniel ; 0 Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, o king. But (however) if not, be it known unto thee, o king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship thy golden image which thou hast set up.' And if, in imitation of so worthy an example, we should defy the wrath of the greatest kings, demanding any sinful compliance from us, how poor a thing is it to fear the displeasure of sorry companions enticing us to the like? how much more should we defy all the crew of hectorly ruffians and huffing braggadocios?
While wicked profane men are so bold and stout in impugning goodness, we should be courageous in defence of it. The righteous is as bold as a lion.'
The fear of God (the which is most reasonable and prudent,
and consistent with the bravest courage) should exclude the fear of men; the which is no less vain than base; the which indeed doth involve the wildest boldness, and most rash foolhardiness in the world, pushing us into the most desperate adventures that can be ; while by sinning we incense the most dreadful anger, we invade the most formidable power, we incur the most horrible dangers, we run headlong into the jaws of death and hell: such a mixture there is of base cowardice and mad audacity in practices issuing from that principle.
3. Men commonly do neglect the open practice of virtue out of care to decline envy; for ill men seeing others endowed with worthy qualities, which they want; performing good deeds, from which their infirmity or pravity doth hold them averse; entitled to commendations, rewards, and advantages to which they cannot aspire, and whereby they seem to eclipse their credit, or impair their interest, or expose their unworthiness; cannot look on such persons without an evil eye, or without conceiving in their heart malevolent grudges at them, which they will be apt to vent in spiteful practices, endeavoring to supplant or blast their virtue; men are apt to envy the favorites of God, as they are of princes. Nor indeed doth any thing more powerfully incite men to hurt their neighbor than such malignity, being edged by that anguish which their sore eye doth feel; to shun which envy, and its mischievous effects, men commonly are tempted to withdraw its cause, their own virtue, that its bright lustre may not wound the sight of such neighbors.
But thus to appease envy by deserting virtue is very fond and absurd. For,
Shall I cast away my best goods, because another would not have me to enjoy them ? shall I be terribly sick, to cure another's distempered fancy ? shall I render myself miserable, because another doth not like to see me happy? because he doth want charity, must I forego innocence ? because he doth not love me, shall I hate myself ? to please him merely, without bettering him, to ease him of a wholesome smart, shall I displease God, and abuse myself?
Would he not be a silly man, who being envied because he seemeth a favorite of his prince, would, to gratify such enviers, offend his prince? No surely, this is too fond a regard unto any man's base disposition, this is too great a gratification of an enemy's pleasure, this is too slavish a depression of a man's self: rather let him fret, let him torment himself, let him inflict a just punishment on his own uncharitable and unworthy humor; whereby perhaps he may be reduced to discern his folly and correct his fault.
Would any man on such terms part with his estate, mar his business, slur his reputation, or purposely play the fool? would any man become poor, infamous, or contemptible, because to be rich, to be prosperous, to be honorable, to be wise, are insidious things? Much less should a man on that account neglect his duty, thereby betraying his soul, discarding the love and favor of God, destroying the satisfaction of his conscience, and forfeiting his hopes of felicity : damages and mischiefs comparable to which all the envy and spite in the world can nowise bring on him.
If we would avoid envy, we should not do it by incurring a worse evil, and rendering ourselves contemptible for unworthiness; we should rather damp it by modesty, humility, and inoffensive tenor of life.
We should surmount it, and quash it by constant blameless conversation : the which will kill the envious or the
envy. An unquestionable virtue will stop the mouth of detraction, and drive envy into corners, not daring to show itself against it.
4. A common principle, from whence neglect of duty and commission of sin in visible conversation doth spring, is a fear of infamy and reproach, whereto the strict practice of virtue is liable; men not enduring to bear the odious censures, the foul imputations, the ugly characters, the scurvy epithets, and opprobrious names, wherewith the bold and spiteful enemies of goodness are wont to asperse and brand its faithful adherents.
To be deemed weak, credulous, superstitious, formal, timorous, nice, squeamish, scrupulous, straitlaced, conceited, affected, cross, surly, morose, froward, stubborn, pertinacious, proud.
To be termed a foppish simpleton, doting on speculations